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Posted by: Dr. VB Pitaevskii, Theoretical Physicist <Info Msg Rep>

Transhumanity doesn’t know everything. Indeed, the more we discover, the more questions arise. The galaxy is massive and full of mysteries. The Pandora gates allow us to seek out and find new things, examining phenomenon we never could have measured from our own solar system and running experiments we could not have considered elsewhere. Conservatives express distaste at much of the extrasolar research being conducted, and sometimes they even raise direct opposition to investments or to specific missions. In their view, transhumanity already has the means and the tools to live perfectly fulfilling lives. They also view unbridled science as the factor that nearly led transhumanity to its extinction, bringing about the TITANs and ultimately the Fall. So why invest effort into further, often risky, research? First, transhumanity’s curiosity goes away when the species does. Curiosity drives the species to success. While it’s also driven the species near extinction, the sheer magnitude with which curiosity improved life cannot be ignored. Without exception, every member of the species lives today because of scientific advancements. Since the advent of fire, every step of scientific advancement added a facet to basic existence. Every tool broadens the palette. Second, increased understanding in post-Fall existence is necessary for continued survival. As transhumanity discovers more evidence of outside life, general levels of understanding decrease. Without an understanding of these life forms and their fundamental traits and features, transhumanity puts itself at risk in any dealings. Knowledge is power, and every day, transhumanity discovers that its knowledge is distinctly lacking in many places. Since the TITANs, most everyone recognizes that a little knowledge is very dangerous. But only an extremist will state that a complete lack of knowledge is better than a comprehensive knowledge. Both of these elements play heavily into why transhumanity insists on traveling to remote locations for research opportunities. Ultimately, though, the reasons are as varied as the individuals (and the hypercorps) that are resourceful enough to initiate such missions.

A Typical Mission

A typical mission is a misnomer. Every research mission is conducted with express intentions in mind. Some are one-shot experiments. Others involve placing sensor packages to be picked up or remotely accessed later. Some require long-term basecamps or extensive installations and are essentially colonies with specific research studies as their goals. There are a few standards in science expeditions, however. For example, during the first few manned missions to a given location, travelers are encouraged to bring all necessary supplies and resources; at least until the availability and usefulness of local resources can be verified. Since most research ops involve sensor scans, measurements, and similar forms of data retrieval, the required equipment is usually quite portable. The current state of technology is such that the standard gear for thorough geological, biological, and physical surveying is usually a handheld scanner. In a relatively stable environment, nanobot swarms can not only emulate, but exceed traditional equipment. Unfortunately, nanobots don’t take well to intense surroundings. Where a heavily structured synthmorph might be able to handle pyroclastic fallout, nanoswarms are just less hardy. Depending on the research, however, the work may involve larger sensor arrays, heavy mining equipment to sink deep probes, larger spacecraft or robots, or similar heavy gear. With the exception of hypercorp-backed missions and certain projects funded by wealthy, private patrons, science missions often tend to be underfunded and operating on extremely tight budgets. As a result, they often cut corners on other essential equipment, sometimes impeding the safety and security of the mission.

Anomalies in Physics

In the 21st century, humanity expanded its space travel programs with the express intention of using low gravity and vacuum environments to expedite and intensify scientific exploration. As a result, humanity discovered the differences between the laws governing macrophysics and quantum physics. After the Fall, transhumanity has pursued new, similar opportunities for scientific discovery on the other sides of Pandora gates. Many of these projects have been in pursuit of rankling scientific questions, such as “why do neutrinos have mass?” or “can the proton decay?” or “are quarks made up of even tinier objects?” Others investigate remote locations in which the supposed standard laws of physics seem to break down or not apply. These anomalies may be explainable in ways that don’t require rethinking some of the major assumptions currently underpinning physics, or they may result in some breakthrough or revolution in our understanding of the universe. The true uses for these anomalies have yet to be tapped or even conceptualized, but the potential is evident and well worth the risk to most scientifically-minded individuals. A few of the more intriguing extrasolar scientific discoveries and ongoing research projects are noted below.

Genesis of Mass-Energy

Arguably the most interesting of these points is a pocket of space near a free-floating gate with one important anomaly: every few seconds, a small amount of matter comes into existence or alternately vanishes from existence. This phenomenon occurs in time with the pulse of a nearby star. Scientists don’t suspect the star is causing the situation, but they do believe that the star’s pulse has something to do with the phenomenon. Probes sent to the pocket come back with trace amounts of elements that didn't exist there previously, with no apparent explanation for how they arrived there. These trace elements invariably disappear some time later, only to be replaced by new elements later on.

Thermodynamic Efficiency

The third law of thermodynamics disallows for perfect thermodynamic efficiency. On a frozen rogue planet floating inside a distant nebula, however, a group of Pathfinder scientists have documented several instances that seem to be an exception to this law. The planet possesses no discernible atmosphere and has an exceedingly low temperature that is stable at a few thousandths of a degree above zero Kelvin. On the surface, sampling probes have discovered a handful of small black minerals in “puddles” that gave inconclusive results to infrared thermal scanners. When externally manipulated by the probes, these minerals appear to break down into near nothingness from an already superfluid state. If the conditions are indeed at absolute zero, the implications are almost infinite. Molecules at such a state would be the greatest conductors known to transhumanity, and may allow for differentials in energy transference unlike anything seen before. If this were correct, light could be manipulated, slowed and stopped to a point where it could be directly converted into electrical current. Unfortunately, the conditions are so very fragile that the Pathfinder scientists are still searching for a proposed method of harnessing or manipulation that is even worthy of testing.

Variance in Light Speed

A team of argonauts working through the Fissure Gate have reported an unusual phenomenon at a remote gate location. This particular wormhole connection leads to the interior of a dark nebula, where the remote gate seems to be free-floating in a densely packed cloud of debris and super-heated gasses. Though thick with dust and plasma, the nebula is dynamic enough that it still lacks any substantial bodies or accumulation of condensed matter. The shocking discovery made by various probes launched here, however, was that light itself moves slower than expected. Due to the hostile conditions of the nebula, this anomaly is difficult to investigate. Most probes sent through so far have lasted a matter of minutes. If the reason for this unusual phenomenon could be discovered, it could be a key element in the development of faster-than-light travel.

Sidebar: Battleground

First-Link Report #75432587k [Begin Audio Transcript] Operator 1: Wormhole engaged. Deploy initial probe. Operator 2: Probe inserted. Operator 3: Jupiter’s Balls, are you seeing this? That’s one hell of a crater. Operator 2: Looks like the remote gate is smack in the middle of it. Does the insertion height seem off to you? Operator 3: Check the gate’s base. See that? Looks like the ground melted at one point and the gate sank into it. Operator 2: You’re right. It survived an asteroid strike? Operator 1: I have a suspicion it survived worse than that. Run the rest of the scans, I want to get the full sensor package in there. [Transcript Break] Operator 2: Probe 2 deployed. Sensor activated. Scanning. Operator 4: Radioactivity is through the roof. Gate’s in a hot zone. Operator 3: Are you thinking what I’m thinking? Operator 1: I’m thinking a bomb. Something detonated here, left a crater full of molten slag. Gate survived but settled in, or maybe rebuilt itself. Operator 2: Is that machinery? There, in the shadows? Operator 1: Let’s get a bot over there to see. Operator 3: Careful, it could be weaponry. Operator 5: Excuse me, sir. See those small impact craters, in the highlighted quadrant? Those look like high-speed projectile impacts. And that striation there? I’m guessing energy beam weapons fire. Operator 1: How old do you think those markings are? Operator 5: Hard to say, but given the likelihood of local weather patterns, I’d hazard an initial guess of quite recent. Operator 4: I’m picking up radar echoes. Strike that. We’re being pinged. Operator 1: Find the source. Operator 2: Did that thing just move? Operator 3: I’m detecting nearby energy transmissions. AI says the probe has been locked. We’re under attack! Operator 2: Holy fuck look at that thing! Operator 1: Kill the link! Kill it now! [End Transcript]

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